A Filipino journalist’s pursuit of social justice

Isabelle Precious Lee decided that she wanted to be a journalist when she was young—too early for most to define a momentous life path—after she accompanied her mother to Laura Vicuña, a halfway house for sexually abused children. 

A Filipino journalist’s pursuit of social justice
SHATTERING GLASS CEILINGS. Young Filipino journalist Isabelle Lee uses her skills as a storyteller to speak truth to power and amplify the voice of the voiceless, the marginalized, and the abused. 
She was confronted by two painful realities: that there are more damsels in distress than dainty princesses, and that their stories are made invisible in and by the real world. 

Eighteen years after, the world is for her taking. She is one of the up-and-coming multimedia journalists and is poised to take the entire industry to higher grounds because of her comprehensive academic, professional, leadership, and advocacy experiences. 

In 2015, she graduated cum laude and top 5 percent of her program at the Ateneo de Manila University, with a degree in Communication Arts. In May this year, she earned her double master’s degree in Journalism and International Affairs from the prestigious Columbia University in New York. 

Storytelling rooted in empathy 

Isabelle believes the world we live in is full of injustices and inequalities, and gender plays a critical role in this longstanding and continuous disempowerment to vulnerable sectors. 

This deep understanding of empathy comes from her life advocacy. She devoted her college years in the Philippines working with communities of sexually abused individuals, mostly women and children. In fact, she was the President of Tugon (Aid), a thousand-member strong organization which provides direct care to children who are victims of sexual abuse. 

She says that “gender-based inequalities are deeply pervasive in society, and women are punished repeatedly by virtue of the sex and gender lottery. It is the sector that has been disregarded economically, politically, socially, and culturally the most.” 

“The only way to stop this erasure is to tell women’s stories as raw and truthful as possible, no matter how painful and uncomfortable they may be. Of course, it also goes without saying that we need more women to tell the stories of other women—the shared experiences that cannot be given justice without putting yourself in the struggle of the other.”

To her, journalism is about speaking truth to power and amplifying the voice of the voiceless. It is her life goal that sexual abuse victims and marginalized communities find not only a semblance of justice but also a return of their dignity through the stories she writes. 

Running twice as fast and far

The journalism landscape in the country is competitive; the old guards still exist, but visionary young-bloods—those who are making waves in unprecedented proportions—are making their way up the ladder. 

Isabelle is a prime example, not only of the empowered woman, but of the cosmopolitan identity of the Filipino. Her comprehensive multimedia work experience is an indication that she has absorbed skills in all spaces that have allowed her to learn and shine her brilliance, and has worked beyond expectations to bring ripples of change in the profession. Her goal-oriented personality is a return to one simple but heartbreaking truth: women have to run twice as fast to get half as far in most aspects of life. 

Immediately after earning her bachelors, she started working with reputable media institutions in the country. Her professional experience boasts of working for two of the country’s news and media affairs giants and rivals, not only in front of the camera, but also in more exhausting aspects of journalism: research, documentation, and production. 

Her ability to cut through the nitty-gritty details of news involving government ministers, foreign VIPs, and top economic decision-makers, all while expanding her networks make her one of the more-skilled practitioners in her craft. 

She left her seemingly comfortable and stable career path to study abroad and build for herself a global name. While dealing with new academic challenges, she committed to honing her skills with multiple communications and media affairs internships from prestigious workplaces such as the United Nations, the Daily Yonder, and CNN. 

Currently, she is an intern at Bloomberg, and has been published in multiple international news sites and digital platforms for in-depth stories dealing with various topics such as economics, international affairs, and women’s issues. 

The future re-imagined 

When asked where she gets the drive to keep on going, Isabelle says that the achievements are only incidental to the goal of breaking barriers of inequalities. 

“Journalism is the pursuit of truth, and ultimately, justice. The milestones are only important when they can contribute to a consumable public good. I focus on the big picture, and I treat each learning experience as an opportunity to build on capacities. I want to be more, so I can do and give more to my fellow women, my community, country, and to the world,” she says. 

Isabelle chose a field that was made for the restless—those who are brave and relentless enough to commit themselves to the pursuit of the truth. It is also the frontline of the battlefield to protect democracy and justice, especially during a time when these concepts are challenged. 

For Isabelle, the fight is worth it. Her resolve was defined when she made the decision to be a storyteller almost two decades ago, and it has only been strengthened by confronting injustices upfront. She will continue to tell the stories of women and the rest of vulnerable sectors in society, until all that they can see in the shards from the glass ceilings upon glass ceilings that her storytelling will shatter are their reflections. 

She will look injustice straight in the eyes and will not look away. 

Topics: Isabelle Precious Lee , journalist , Laura Vicuña , sexually abused children

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